By Gary Walther
"There are 3,000 guest rooms on the coast from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Kennebunkport, Maine," says Scott Spann, as his wind-up to why Cliff House in Cape Neddick, Maine, which opens in mid summer, is exactly what's needed on this 30-mile stretch of coast.
"But it lacks a luxury-level hotel," he says. "Right now it's all Bed and Breakfasts, small boutique hotels, and motels." Which, he admits, has always been part of the charm.
Cliff House is going to set a new standard for the southern Maine coast: a full-service luxury resort (heated indoor and outdoor pool, spa, two dining venues, a ballroom for weddings, and other occasions). "Without losing the authenticity of Maine," Spann adds.
But Spann has greater ambitions—he wants to reinvent winter, which has always been the Achilles Heel of hotels in Maine. Cliff House is not intended to be a May-September romance, but the place you go for a romantic, fog-bound, long-weekend in January if you live in Boston (70 minutes away), Manchester (45 minutes), or Portland (nearly next door). Given the airline connections—American, United, and Southwest serve Portland and Manchester—even a New Yorker could pull off a long-weekend stay here.
The location is perfect: a 70-acre cliff-top right on the Atlantic Ocean. The site formerly housed the original Cliff House, one of those grand 19th-century hotels that once speckled the coast from here to Rhode Island. The property was owned for 124 years by one family, and Cliff House II follows the footprint of the original. (The old Cliff House closed for the winter.)
We're going "to program the winter," says Spann, referring to plans for Midnight Guided Snowshoe Hikes under a full moon, a bring-your-own decoration tree-lighting ceremony, and a nightly lantern lighting ritual that is a bow to the lighthouses along the Maine coast.
Cliff House will have two restaurants headed by Maine’s own Chef Rick Shell, who Spann has known since his days running the Suncadia Resort east of Seattle. Nubb’s Lobster Shack will capture the essence of the coastal Maine dining experience—craft beers, lobster and fried-clam rolls, by the pool if you desire—and Tiller, a play on the nautical but also the plow tiller, will be the more formal dining venue, with a menu that consists of as many local ingredients as possible.
Cliff House will be the closest luxury hotel to Boston—"a luxury experience in Maine without the long drive," says Spann, referring to the bottleneck gridlock that’s become an inevitable obstacle in traveling to Cape Cod. The rooms are in keeping with the hotel's spirit—clean-lined but with references to coastal and nautical without props (say, a lobster trap on the wall).
"As you walk through the door, your gaze is fastened on the view," says Spann. And that’s precisely the point.